Dr. Salem Al Ketbi
Dr. Salem Al KetbiCourtesy:

Behind-the-scenes talks on resuming the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group are a striking race of declarations. The US and Iranian sides are vying to affirm or deny that no concessions are needed to finalize the agreement.

The US through John Kirby, head of strategic communications at the National Security Council, signaled that Washington views Iran’s decision to make some concessions as a positive step in the negotiations to return to the JCPOA.

Iran has made some concessions “that allowed us to get to where we are in the process … so that’s a positive step forward,” Kirby said, noting that the parties were “closer now than we were even just a couple of weeks ago.” Still, “we’re not there yet,” Kirby disguised, noting that “a lot of gaps remain.” Tehran then formally denied that it was making any concessions.

In this sideshow tussle, it is clear that both Washington and Tehran are jockeying not only for actual concessions, but also for marketing each formula achieved as a big win. This explains the war of declarations and counter-declarations, denials and assurances of concessions in the negotiations.

In between, it seems more urgent to the European mediators to speed up the signing of the agreements in order to deal with the energy crisis expected next winter or at least to limit its expected huge repercussions.

Reading the course of these negotiations shows that Iran was able to bend the current US administration to its conditions, such as the demand to remove the IRGC from the US list of terrorist organizations, which has long been a negotiating card occupying American political circles and media. Iranian negotiators knew from the beginning how hard it would be to push through this demand.

But they also recognized that removing it from the list of demands to be negotiated would bring enormous benefits and would be seen as an important concession in the negotiations. And that’s pretty much what happened.

Tehran made good use of the atmosphere of the Ukraine crisis, mindful of the psychological and moral pressure exerted on the European mediators who hope to quickly bring Iranian oil back to the world markets to make up for part of the energy deficit caused by the war and to send a positive signal to the markets to help lower prices.

Leaks in the US media point to the economic incentives the US government has put in place to bring Iran back into the agreement. Israel estimates that Iran will receive about a hundred billion dollars annually if it returns to the agreement. The White House wants a signature that it touts as a reprieve from the Iranian nuclear threat.

The problem with this is that Iran itself provides evidence of the soundness of Israel’s position.
Now both sides, Iranian and US, are fighting to portray the signing of the agreement as a political victory at home.

The US government is working to present the signing as a great success of its own and to right the wrong done by the Trump administration, which pulled out of the agreement in 2018, while Iran, for its part, will announce that it has succeeded in breaking the will of the Americans and persuading them to make concessions and lift sanctions.

Certainly, both sides have been looking for a way out in recent months to save face. Neither side was in a position to face the consequences of failure. Neither Biden administration has an effective alternative strategy for dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat, nor can Tehran bear the consequences of maximum US sanctions any longer.

An important question remains here. Can the Biden administration convince its opponents and critics of a possible mutually agreeable formula to revive the nuclear deal? The answer is probably no.

Because despite tireless American efforts to absorb Israeli anger and rejection of a return to the agreement in its current form, Israel’s declaration that it will not abide by the agreement limits the White House’s ability to promote the agreement as its political achievement.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid said, “Israel is not against any agreement. We are against this agreement, because it is a bad one. Because it cannot be accepted as it is written right now.”

“On the table right now is a bad deal. It would give Iran a hundred billion dollars a year. This money will not build schools or hospitals. This is a hundred billion dollars a year that will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe.”

“This money will fund the Revolutionary Guards. It will fund the Basij who oppress the Iranian people. It will fund more attacks on American bases in the Middle East. It will be used to strengthen Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad.” “We have made it clear to everyone: if a deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”

The problem with this is that Iran itself provides evidence of the soundness of Israel’s position. One example is the recent attacks by pro-Iranian militias on US troops in eastern Syria. This makes the White House’s task of making its case domestically an uphill, if not impossible, one.

One problem for the White House is that Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid cannot accept the formula for an agreement rejected by his predecessors, at a time and in an environment of domestic political instability and intense competition in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for the first of November.

This comes at the very time when Biden wants to jump ahead and salvage the Democrats’ chances in the midterm congressional elections.

Dr. Salem AlKetbi is a UAE political analyst